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Round House Theatre Quits Silver Spring, I.M.P. Takes Over the Lincoln Theatre

It’s musical (and theatrical) chairs for arts institutions in Washington today.

I.M.P., which operates the 9:30 Club and Merriweather Post Pavilion, will take over Lincoln Theatre. Photograph via Wikimedia Commons.

Round House Theatre, which for more than ten years has managed the 150-seat black box theater on Silver Spring’s Colesville Road, will end its management of the space in 2014, the company announced today. The news came just as Mayor Gray announced that I.M.P., promoters and operators of the 9:30 Club and Merriweather Post Pavilion, had been chosen as the winning bid to take over the historic Lincoln Theatre on U Street.

The Lincoln Theatre has offered performances only sporadically in recent years, despite having a storied history since it was built in 1922. The venue has hosted Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Nat King Cole, and many more luminaries of the jazz age, and was once the venue for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birthday party. It will now be another jewel in the crown of local promoter and I.M.P. chairman Seth Hurwitz. “It’s an honor and a thrill to be entrusted to bringing new life to such a wonderful old theater,” Hurwitz said in a statement. “Although we have been doing this for 33 years, we have added very few venues in our family roster. But this one we couldn’t pass up. The Lincoln is just too cool not to.”

The news from Round House Theatre is more contentious: Although the company had many plans for its smaller space, and was mentioned as a key part of the company’s mission when new artistic director Ryan Rilette took over in 2012, the Silver Spring theater is owned by Montgomery County, which was approached by a consortium of small arts groups concerned they would no longer be able to use the space. The county announced its intention to consider other management models when Round House’s contract came up for renewal in 2014.

“We have spent the last six months making the case for why the public is best served by continued Round House management of the space. This has already taken vital time away from mission-related work,” said a statement issued by Round House. “We cannot afford to spend another year defending our management of the black box.” It will continue to produce plays as normal in its 400-seat space in Bethesda. This comes in a month when both Woolly Mammoth and Keegan Theatre have announced the purchases of the theaters they currently operate.

What this means for Forum Theatre, Happenstance Theater, and other small companies that produce plays at Round House Silver Spring, is currently uncertain. We’ve reached out for comment and will update as we hear more.

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